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Crocs trend steps into town
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct 25, 2005
Don’t be surprised if you see some Western Pennsylvanians wearing beach shoes all winter.
Even at the hockey rink.
People are crazy about their Crocs.
The so-cool-they’re-hot shoes were born near Boulder, Colo., in 2002 and hit Next-Big-Thing-status this summer. By July, Crocs Inc. had sold nearly $37 million worth this year alone and was cranking out 1.2 million pairs per month for this country and a growing list of 20 others.
Everybody seems to be wearing them in some places out West, especially in beachless Boulder, where, in one shopping trip in August, actress Jennifer Garner bought 16 pairs.
The new “comfort shoes” have been embraced by everyone from the original target, boaters, to nurses and celebrity chefs, many of whom fold the heel straps forward or down and go backless.
Pittsburgh is — here’s a surprise — toward the tail end of the Crocs trend. But the outdoorsy shoes were available at a few local outlets this summer, including Eastern Mountain Sports at the Ross Park Mall, where manager Chris Kain says, “They were huge!”
They certainly were, for some, a sight. Imagine garden clogs but made from a soft and super-light foamy “closed cell resin,” with lots of escape holes for water and sand and air, and in a rainbow of 17 bright colors. Perhaps you at least saw some of the national ads, in Rolling Stone and other magazines, with the tagline “Ugly can be beautiful.”
Mr. Kain says, “It’s one of those things you’re either going to love it or say, ‘What’s the deal with that?’ “
Plenty of customers fell in the love camp, he said, especially for the comfy way the Crocs conform to the feet. Backpackers especially loved the light weight — a pair goes 12 ounces — and the fact that they could hang Crocs from their packs with a carabiner and pop them on for crossing streams.
And they’re easy on the pocketbook, starting at about $30 a pair.
Only about a dozen pairs were left last week at his store, which, like many, is phasing summer products out for winter.
But this fall Crocs is launching the new non-holey “Aspen.” As described on the Web site/catalog www.crocs.com, this model sounds perfect for Pittsburgh, as it’s “ideal for cold, wet climates and/or bio-hazardous environments.” The company also is debuting a rain boot named “Georgie.”
Occasion Station at Station Square is one store that plans to start selling those and some of the other (now nine) models if it can get them (it’s not easy). Meanwhile, the rainbow rack of unisex Beach shoes remains on the floor, and on the feet of store workers such as Kim Palmer.
“These are the most comfortable things,” she says. She also wears them to her first job as an insurance agent and says, “I’m going to wear mine all winter.” She doesn’t even care that it’s after Labor Day and hers are white. Or were white. Nothing a little Armor All spray, like you use on cars, can’t clean up.
Store owner Bill Brubach started wearing Beaches in March and is on his second pair. “I pretty much haven’t taken them off,” he says. “I even play basketball in them. Which I don’t recommend. But I did.”
Speaking of sports: Another huge fan is Pittsburgh Penguins equipment manager Steve Latin. He discovered the weird wearables last year in Las Vegas at Jerry Bruckheimer’s Bad Boys Hockey Tournament. “I put ‘em on and I never took ‘em off.”
He wore them at the pool, on the beach and then at training camp, where players looked at him funny. But after the roster was trimmed, he broke out a case of Beaches to give to the team.
Mario Lemieux got first pick, of two yellow pairs (“I always take care of the owner,” Mr. Latin says). Sidney Crosby picked yellow, too, and lots of other players went with that or black.
But some had no problem donning orange Crocs. Even pink.
“My guys love Crocs,” says Mr. Latin, who describes the now common locker room scene of players in their skivvies and their Crocs. “It’s the funniest thing in the world!”
Tens of thousands of Crocs have come to Pittsburgh via the Brother’s Brother Foundation. Crocs Inc. donates its seconds, which the charity sends to needy feet in places such as Afghanistan, Haiti and Sierra Leone.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the company sent two shipments of 5,000 first-quality pairs to Georgia and Louisiana.
Carol Taylor, the foundation’s coordinator of humanitarian programs, says Crocs even have wound up on the feet of the Louisiana workers and families the charity relocated to a house in Ben Avon. One 19-month-old boy has an orange pair and “looks like a little teeny duck when he walks around.” When she says, “We have just fallen in love with these Crocs,” she also means personally, because she’s been out and about in a pair of pink ones and getting lots of comments from people.
She thought, “Boy, this is OK: Guys come up to you and ask you about your shoes. That’s not bad for a 61-year-old grandmother.”
She wasn’t planning to wear hers out in winter but figures the foam might be warm enough with a thick pair of socks (optional for brawny Boulderites).
Who knows how long Crocs will retain their sizzle? They’ve already been backlashed, including being inducted alongside Uggs — remember Uggs? — to Manolo the Shoe Blogger’s “Gallery of the Horrors” (www.shoeblogs.com/horrors.html).
But the company, which plans an initial public stock offering (of $145 million) by the end of the year, is confident that it can continue to boom. And other makers have jumped in to help clog the shoe market with cheaper knockoffs and similar styles.
And hey, even if this foot fad fizzles, Pittsburgh probably will be on the heels of that, too.
Bob Batz Jr.